Sep 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: The Manchin-Sinema climate collision

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is rebuffing pleas from Western Democratic senators, who are citing extreme weather in their home states, to try to gain his support for core climate provisions in President Biden’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

Why it matters: Manchin’s entrenched opposition puts him on a collision course with another key holdout on the spending bill, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). She's indicated that addressing climate change is one of her top priorities in any compromise.

  • Addressing Manchin's concerns may create an equal number of problems for Sinema — or vice versa.
  • Manchin's reluctance to move on climate also has the potential to embolden progressive House Democrats to scuttle the companion $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
  • Before voting for the traditional infrastructure bill, progressives are demanding assurances from Manchin and Sinema that they will agree to the $3.5 trillion for new social spending included in the budget reconciliation package.

Driving the news: In a closed-door meeting last Thursday, Manchin rejected entreaties from several senators. The meeting was attended by a dozen members from Western states — but not Sinema.

  • Along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), they asked Manchin to reconsider his opposition to the Clean Electricity Payment Program.
  • It offers incentives to utilities to provide cleaner energy, according to senators and aides.

Some senators sought to project optimism afterward about moving Manchin.

  • “We’ve had record hurricanes in the Southeast, flooding in the Northeast, wildfires throughout the West. It's undeniable,” Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) told Axios. “I feel confident we're going to make significant strides when this is all said and done. And that includes Sen. Manchin.”
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who also attended the meeting, said: "He had constructive ideas in a number of areas and we're continuing the discussion."

The big picture: The White House continues to press Manchin and Sinema to signal their support for some kind of compromise on the "soft" infrastructure package, or at least provide a top-line number to demonstrate they are serious about a package.

  • The fate of both bills is hanging in the balance.
  • “We’re obviously at a precarious and important time in these discussions,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

Between the lines: The former governor of a coal-mining state, Manchin opposes efforts in the House and Senate to force utilities to rely more on clean energy sources.

  • He cites concerns about power reliability and potential job losses in West Virginia’s coal industry.
  • He's also convinced a transition to cleaner power is already underway.
  • “They're wanting to pay companies to do what they're already doing,” Manchin said on CNN on Sept. 12.

The other side: Sinema clearly wants action on climate and is signaling both publicly and privately it's one of her top priorities.

  • “Right now, we have the opportunity to pass smart policies to address" climate change, she told the Arizona Republic last week.

Between the lines: Some Democrats think Manchin can be convinced to change his position with special provisions for West Virginia, which has experienced disastrous flooding this year — without sacrificing the broader framework to reduce carbon emissions.

  • "Sen. Manchin may be interested in matters that are beneficial to his state," Wyden said. "And that's what I have to do as chairman of the committee."
  • "I can tell you the transition is going to happen, and people in West Virginia realize that," Manchin said during a committee hearing Tuesday. "Just don’t leave us behind.”
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